What is lobbying? Lobbying activities often overlap with other forms of advocacy, such as public relations, public affairs, or issue campaigning. Challenges in lobbying strategies can involve dealing with legislators, government officials, or regulators, but lobbying successes can also come from grassroots mobilization, public advocacy, research, policy analysis, lunches and dinners, campaign contributions, and more.
The diversity of these activities makes it challenging to create a one-size-fits-all definition for a political lobbyist – or a fixed strategy for success. Furthermore, especially in 2023, lobbying efforts don’t always generate change since lawmakers divided along party lines are less willing to seek common ground or compromise.
The space for the ‘honest lobbyist’ who is just trying to tweak policy in favor of small interests or common citizens has also been shrunk dramatically nowadays, thanks to wealthy individuals, corporations, and interest groups with disproportionate access and influence.
And this is not even going into the new media landscape, where the rise of social media and digital platforms means everyone has a voice – even if that voice is spreading false information.
Despite these challenges, lobbying does play a significant role in shaping public policy and influencing decision-making processes in the United States. As lobbyists, you must tweak your strategies to achieve your advocacy goals effectively.
Here are some challenges you have to overcome.
Lobbying challenges – Measuring success
“Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
There’s the obvious – “we got our bill passed” – way of measuring your lobbying success. This may take years and be a long process. Before that final hurrah eventually comes, here are some challenges to measure success and how to get around them.
Fundamentally, lobbying seeks to influence legislation or policy decisions. Therefore, a key measure of success is whether the lobbying efforts resulted in the desired legislative outcomes, such as
- The passage or defeat of a specific bill,
- The inclusion of favorable provisions, or
- The amendment of existing laws.
This is often not always a ‘black and white’ measure since, for example, you may not have gotten the main bill passed, but you did manage to get some amendments added to another bill that supports your cause. How do you measure the years it takes to get any agenda passed? There are several factors, but when it comes to the bill itself, learn to break your ‘wins’ into small chunks and then measure how many of them you achieved.
Any lobbying campaign often attracts media attention. The level and tone of that media coverage indicate the visibility and impact of the lobbying efforts. Positive media coverage can raise awareness and influence public opinion, influencing decision-makers.
The challenge is getting positive coverage without bribes or sources. Building a relationship with certain media members for the long term is crucial. Rather than creating a narrative around yourself, make the issue the story.
The news will cover human interest stories more readily than lobbying efforts. You can measure your wins by metrics like the number of mentions, articles per month, and comments received on social media.
The most straightforward of all the measures, lobbying efforts can be easily evaluated based on their financial impact. For example, if lobbying secures government contracts, subsidies, tax incentives, or favorable regulatory conditions, it may result in increased profits or cost savings for the industry.
The challenge? Trying to calculate financial impact.
Amidst a slew of legislation and propaganda, it may not be obvious to the clients or the public what is the dollar amount of a ‘win’. You have to overcome this through constant calculations and having studies commissioned. At any given time, you must know the exact dollar value of every item added to a legislative agenda or every bill passed/defeated.
Public opinion and public sentiment:
Lobbying activities are evaluated based on their ability to shape public opinion and generate public support for a particular cause or policy. The challenge comes from trying to understand how much of the change is due to your lobbying efforts and how much is due to general awareness.
Technology is your savior in such cases. You must make the most out of techs like call centers, surveys, mass texting, and peer-to-peer text conversations to have plenty of quantifiable data about the attitudes you have influenced.
For example, CallHub can help you reach out to tens of thousands of people, have them answer questions during the call, and assign each contact a tag based on their replies.
You will quickly have a clear picture of what the public thinks about your efforts. In time, you will start seeing the pattern – whether they are convinced or not.
All of this is, of course, an expense you must bear as a lobbyist. But this is a critical part of the job and instrumental in measuring success.
Relationship with decision-makers:
Another measure of lobbying success is establishing and maintaining relationships with key decision-makers, such as politicians, government officials, or regulators. Building strong relationships can provide access, credibility, and opportunities for further engagement.
Interestingly, the challenge here is often a rule of plenty. You must build as broad a coalition as possible, and yet if you have too many friends from either side of the political divide, you may be seen as partisan yourself and excluded from compromises. The appearance of neutrality is a tightrope that lobbyists must walk.
A reasonable solution is to hyper-focus on the key decision-makers you need for your issue and keep your approaches to them alone. Networking for the sake of networking may backfire.
It is important to note that lobbying success may only sometimes be immediately quantifiable or directly attributable to lobbying efforts alone. It often involves a combination of timing, political climate, and public sentiment. Have your metrics, and measure carefully.
Lobbying challenges – Grassroots mobilization
“An ardent minority for or against a particular measure may often count for more than an apathetic majority.” ― Patrick Devlin
While grassroots mobilization can be an effective strategy for influencing decision-makers, it comes with its own challenges. Here are some common challenges faced in grassroots mobilization for lobbying:
Grassroots efforts often rely on volunteers and individuals who are passionate about the cause. However, these individuals may have limited time, resources, and expertise to effectively mobilize and sustain a campaign.
Your strategy must be hyper-focused on the optimal use of time and resources. Have a ‘budget’, keep track of your resources at all times, and ensure you allocate resources only when needed. Overall, ensuring a sense of ownership and providing opportunities for meaningful participation is essential for maintaining engagement – which can be hard to do with limited resources.
Many individuals may be disengaged from the political process at a grassroots level, making it difficult to motivate them to take action. A great challenge lobbying faces is getting people to believe that their small-scale efforts will leave a mark.
Advocacy groups and lobbyists who can provide specific information and evidence about the local impact of an issue can strengthen their lobbying efforts.
Building awareness and interest in the cause requires effective communication, education, and the ability to demonstrate the relevance and impact of the issue on individuals’ lives. You may not see real results until you crack this ‘interest’ conundrum.
It is essential to help the community recognize that some issues may have broader implications that extend beyond specific regions. In such cases, it is best to demonstrate the issue’s broader societal or systemic impacts – and keep stressing that aspect.Francine Sreca from Pixabay
Grassroots mobilization may face opposition from powerful interest groups, political adversaries, or those with opposing views. They may employ tactics to undermine the credibility or effectiveness of grassroots efforts. Well-funded interest groups or corporations may have greater access to financial resources, legal expertise, and networking opportunities, providing them with a distinct advantage in shaping policy outcomes.
The main challenge is that you may lack the political or social capital to oppose big interests in a sustained manner for a long period of time. It is critical to fix this through effective communication and awareness. Otherwise, you will soon find yourself at the losing end of a propaganda tsunami. Be prepared to be the underdog, and keep targeted campaigns, accurate data, and community support as the cornerstone of your battle. Work with the community, and ensure you keep the spotlight on the issue at hand without getting distracted.
Harnessing the collective power of individuals, communities, and grassroots organizations has the potential to bring about meaningful policy shifts and influence the decision-making process. Just ensure you know the challenges before taking up the fight.
Lobbying challenges – Demographics of lawmakers
Changing demographics among lawmakers can present unexpected challenges for lobbying efforts. Here are a few reasons why shifting demographics among lawmakers can impact the lobbying landscape:
As the demographics of lawmakers change, there is often an increased representation of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including different ethnicities, genders, age groups, and socioeconomic statuses.
This diversity brings a wider range of perspectives and priorities to policymaking. It may require lobbyists to adjust their strategies and messaging to effectively engage with lawmakers who have different lived experiences and policy priorities.
Lawmakers from different demographic backgrounds may prioritize different issues or have unique policy concerns that reflect the interests of their constituents. This can lead to a reshuffling of policy agendas and a greater emphasis on previously marginalized issues.
Your lobbying efforts must need to adapt to these changing priorities and align with the evolving policy landscape.
Inclusivity and representation:
Changing demographics among lawmakers often reflect a broader societal push for inclusivity and representation. This can increase scrutiny on you, the lobbyist, and your organization. You must ensure your team is also inclusive, transparent, and accountable.
The challenge comes if you are not this way already. You may have to diversify your own ranks and engage with a wider range of voices to maintain relevance and legitimacy among new-age lawmakers.
The solution is simple – hire or engage staff and volunteers directly from the community you wish to represent, and ensure their voices are heard when you lobby. Understanding and respecting diverse cultural perspectives and ensuring inclusive engagement can contribute to effective lobbying in this changing landscape.
Overall, changing lawmakers’ demographics can create challenges and opportunities for lobbyists. By embracing diversity and inclusivity, lobbying efforts can become more representative, responsive, and impactful.
Lobbying challenges – Bipartisan/Partisan lobbyingRGY23 from Pixabay
The increasing bipartisan mentality among lawmakers can indeed pose challenges for lobbying efforts. Here are a few ways in which the growing bipartisan approach can impact lobbying:
Diminished party influence:
In a more bipartisan environment, lawmakers may be less inclined to follow party lines or prioritize party interests strictly. This can reduce the power of traditional party-based lobbying efforts, as lawmakers may focus more on finding common ground and bipartisan solutions rather than catering to partisan demands.
Lobbying efforts that previously relied on party affiliations or partisan divides may need to adapt to these changing dynamics. Lobbyists may need to build broader partnerships that bridge party lines and find common interests among lawmakers from different parties.
Easier said that done, of course. But a major challenge that must be overcome.
Complex decision-making dynamics:
Bipartisan cooperation can make the decision-making process more complicated. Lawmakers may engage in negotiations, compromises, and deal-making across party lines, making it challenging for lobbyists to predict outcomes or influence specific policy provisions.
Lobbyists may need to engage with a wider range of stakeholders and employ more flexible and adaptable strategies to navigate these complex dynamics. To put it simply – the challenge will be to find a solution that all kinds of lawmakers will agree to, full of compromise but still achieving your goals.
Greater scrutiny and public pressure:
Bipartisan approaches can also lead to heightened public scrutiny and pressure on lawmakers to deliver bipartisan outcomes. Lobbying efforts may face increased scrutiny from the public, media, and advocacy organizations, who expect transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct.
Lobbyists must demonstrate their commitment to working across party lines and addressing the broader public interest. Similar to the earlier mentioned diversification efforts, your entire organization must present itself in a manner that appeals to the public’s sense of morality.
On the flip side, ideological polarization often leads to gridlock in the legislative process. Lawmakers from opposing parties may be less willing to cooperate or find common ground on policy issues, making it difficult for lobbyists to achieve their desired outcomes.
This does make it harder for lobbyists to influence the decision-making process. Lawmakers may be less receptive to arguments or evidence challenging their preexisting beliefs. Plus, the bipartisan reputation of the lobbyist will also be under close scrutiny.
There is little you, as a lobbyist, can do about gridlock directly but ensure you are up to the challenge of being above partisan attacks. Everyone must be clear that you are working towards an issue and not for a particular party’s idealogy.
Only lobbyists who can navigate ideological divisions, build relationships across the aisle, and present compelling arguments from different perspectives and still have an impact. It is among the hardest challenges a lobbyist faces – but it will eventually end up being your bread and butter when it comes to meeting your goals.
Lobbying challenges – Prioritization of issuesOrna Wachman from Pixabay
Prioritization of issues can pose several challenges for lobbying efforts. Here are some ways in which prioritization can impact lobbying:
Lobbying organizations have limited financial, human, and time resources. When faced with many issues, you must prioritize where to allocate your limited resources.
This can be challenging as it requires careful consideration of each issue’s potential impact, urgency, and feasibility. Prioritizing certain issues over others may mean that some important issues receive less attention or resources, making it more difficult to advocate for them effectively.
The challenge is to pick the right horse to back at any given time. But the solution is to be bold and pick your fights as they come. You may not win them all, but if you spread yourself too thin, you will never win any. Pick the most important issue, and resist the urge to address every secondary tangent of that branch.
But don’t forget – prioritizing one issue over another can create conflicts among stakeholders and interest groups. Consider everyone who is affected before publicly committing to a path.
Prioritization must consider the political climate — opportunities when policymakers are more receptive to addressing specific issues. The timing may influence lobbying efforts’ feasibility and potential success. Failing to prioritize issues that align with favorable political conditions or policy windows may result in missed opportunities.
Lobbying efforts may be more effective when they align with public sentiment or with strong public awareness and support for the issue. You have to be willing even to drop issues and take up new related ones because of the social situation at the time. An extreme challenge, but such is the nature of lobbying.
At the end of the day, some viral news story or new political situation may mean you have to launch your campaign right now. And you need to be prepared for that ‘now’ to come at any time.
Despite these challenges, it is essential to acknowledge that lobbying, when conducted ethically and responsibly, can contribute positively to democratic governance. Interest groups representing diverse perspectives and expertise bring valuable insights to the policy-making process.
Therefore, efforts should focus on creating a more inclusive and transparent lobbying environment that upholds democratic values and safeguards against undue influence. Go out and make a change.
Just be ready for a proper fight!